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Canned Tomato Comparison

January 11, 2011

I am constantly fighting the battle of being frugal but not cheap.  I have the impulse to not spend my money, and if forced to, purchase the cheapest option.

Often times, that is okay.  In the case of toilet paper, it is not (the Omnivore taught me that lesson.  Thanks, hon!).

I am growing and learning how to spend money more freely and recognizing when buying the most expensive option is actually better.

Canned tomatoes are something that I use a lot of.  Give me an onion, a can of tomatoes, and my spice cabinet and I’ll give you 7 different dinners for each night of the week.

By the way, have you ever seen the canned tomato options at your nearest supermarket?  Who knew that something seemingly so basic could come in so many incarnations.  Naturally, I have the tendency to buy the cheapest variant.  And for so long, I never gave it two thoughts.  When was I ever actually even eating the tomatoes without gussying them up with spices, vegetable additions, and the like?  Nearly never.  So did the quality of the tomatoes matter?

The only way I could continue to sleep at night once my mind was latched to this query was to embark upon a comparison of my own.  I aimed to purchase Muir Glen tomatoes, organic tomatoes, and generic tomatoes.  The biggest supermarket around, however, did not stock Muir Glen.  I settled on the three brands you see above.

They were priced as follows
$3.29 for the Pomi- the box contained nearly twice the content of the cans, so let’s go with $1.64.
$1.39 for the organic Publix tomatoes
$0.60 for the generic non-organic tomatoes

I aimed to make a simple tomato sauce to be served over whole wheat pasta to test the character of each tomato type.  Each brand of tomatoes was spiced in the same exact way: 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 cup of onions, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp dried basil per 15 oz of canned tomatoes.  I add 1/4 t of salt to the Pomi tomatoes because it was advertised as “salt-free” while the other brands were not.

As you can see from the picture, the results are all visually similar.  The generic, non-organic tomatoes were packaged in a larger dice than the other two types.

Using leftover whole wheat pasta I created a pasta crust as a vehicle for the sauce.  I combined 1 egg, 3 T Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup milk, and 6 oz cooked, chopped pasta.  I spread this mixture into greased baking dishes and baked the noodles for about 20 minutes.  I then added the sauce and baked again for 10 additional minutes.

I cut each portion in half and the Omnivore and I settled in for a taste test.  I knew the identities of each sauce while the Omnivore did not.

Here are the results:
Pomi: deeper flavor, tastes like it has been cooked longer
Organic Tomatoes: sweeter, most tomatoe-y, most acidic
Generic tomatoes: brightest, sharpest, taste most like fresh

In the end, the Omnivore declared the generic tomatoes his winner while I preferred the organic canned tomatoes.  He also mentioned that no sauce was remarkable enough to declare a huge difference.  I guess it was a draw.

As the primary cook in the house, I can see myself leaning towards one or another variety depending on the meal I am making.

If I need a deeply flavored sauce with little cooking time, I’d go for the Pomi.
If cooking with red wine or beef, I’d also go for the Pomi.  The deep flavors seem like it would pair well those ingredients.

For other cooking applications, I’d prefer the Organic tomatoes.

If making a fresh salsa or the lightly cooked sauce using canned tomatoes, I’d use the generic, which seem to be least cooked in the canned state and most brightly and sharply flavored.

But, if no one can really identify a striking difference (as the Omnivore and I couldn’t), I’d probably rely on the cheapest most frugal option.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. mama permalink
    January 11, 2011 3:22 pm

    good work! this is so nice to know. done like a true scientist.

  2. Christina permalink
    January 11, 2011 4:54 pm

    i favor the Muir Glenn tomatoes, but they are not always available. last week i was forced to use San Marzano and i was very happy with those as well. I love your scientific method

  3. January 11, 2011 5:24 pm

    Great review!! My mom always gets the Pomi… and I never heard of the Publix brand before. Thanks for the review!!

  4. January 11, 2011 5:28 pm

    We buy organic cans in bulk!

  5. Liz permalink
    January 11, 2011 6:38 pm

    So interesting – I have always wondered if there are many differences for the variety of prices out there!

  6. themilkmanswife permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:30 pm

    I am the same way with my money…I can’t let go!! Great info here. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. January 11, 2011 11:10 pm

    Great advice… very helpful post.
    Thanks for commenting on my site – I responded to, but thought I’d let you know here. Stir frying the egg just adds more flavor and creates a light crust on the outside of the egg. You can try this without the spices… maybe just salt and black pepper and see it you like it. It’s basically eating a boiled egg with some flavor. Hope this helps. 🙂

  8. January 12, 2011 9:24 am

    Great post! I also tend to buy generic. Lately I have been buying in bulk which means I have been using Hunts brand.

  9. January 12, 2011 9:28 am

    Interesting blog post. I love it. I stand in the tomato aisle and stare at all the options… way too many in my opinion lol! This will help cut my time down.

  10. January 12, 2011 9:36 am

    I tend to buy generic for all of my diced tomato needs. Thank you for doing this comparison. Very neat idea.

  11. January 12, 2011 11:00 am

    I’m a store brand shopper. We go through so many cans of tomatoes that I can’t justify spending $4/can for the fancy tomatoes when I can get store brand (and it’s even organic!) for a dollar. I’m only a brand snob about TP and mayo, everything else is up for grabs based on price/coupons.

  12. Kelly permalink
    January 12, 2011 12:52 pm

    Just to let you know Pomi is organic too 🙂 Love Pomi

    • brannyboilsover permalink*
      January 12, 2011 12:56 pm

      Really? It said “all natural” but I couldn’t find a mention of organic. Thanks for the info.

      • Kelly permalink
        January 12, 2011 4:03 pm

        They dont use GMOs or pesticides to grow the tomatoes so it is basically organic. Some organic products in the U.S. used GMOs. So bad. But yes I would consider Pomi organic and it is BPA free of course!

  13. January 12, 2011 1:06 pm

    This is such a neat idea. I tend to stick to the muir glen, but have no real basis for doing so.

  14. January 12, 2011 5:16 pm

    I’m the opposite of a bargain shopper at the grocery store, but even I won’t cough up the price for non-store brand organic tomatoes. When I lived in a big city, Muir Glen were similarly priced to other brands, but in this small town, they’re incredibly expensive. Fortunately, the organic store brand is just as good!

  15. January 13, 2011 12:14 am

    Oh I just love this post ! I have always wondered about the differences between the canned tomatoes but never enough to actually do a taste test. I am definitely going to try and see if the South African canned tomatoes have a difference in taste.

  16. January 13, 2011 6:44 am

    I’m glad you did this study. I’ve been curious as well, but I haven’t ever been ambitious enough to do it myself. I tend to go for the least expensive variety although I should probably select the most expensive kind in the glass jars…

  17. Lefty permalink
    January 13, 2011 3:54 pm

    Talk about a useful comparison! You’ve probably just saved me 20 bucks a month on canned tomatoes …

  18. January 15, 2011 1:21 pm

    Great post. Thanks for the info. You made my time standing in the tomato isle shorter!

  19. January 17, 2011 6:52 pm

    Great post! I am fortunate that my grandmother has a huge garden, and we preserve crates of tomatoes each summer. While this doesn’t last me all year, it does save me from buying gobs and gobs of store bought canned tomatoes though. I usually opt for the organic tomatoes simply because they tend to have significantly less sodium, but if I can find generic, no salt added tomatoes, that’s always my first pick. That said, I have read recently that the acid from tomatoes kind of eats at the lining in the cans which means we ingest some of the BPA from the can, so there is something to be said for cartons like Pomi.

  20. katie permalink
    January 18, 2011 11:15 pm

    I love Pomi. It has good flavor, and it is free of BPA.

  21. Emily permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:07 am

    Interesting comparison. I usually buy organic canned tomatoes at Costco but am interested in trying the Pomi ones because I would like to avoid BPA, especially since canned tomatoes are such a staple for us in the winter months.

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